You may have heard that grass-fed dairy is healthier than conventional, but why? Can milk products really be that different from one another?
Here are some distinct differences:
- Milk from cows who eat grass is significantly higher in heart-healthy fat than milk from cows who eat grain feed (what most conventional cows eat). Read more about the nutritional differences here.
- The taste of grass-fed dairy varies from carton to carton, since the nature of the grass varies too. These flavor differences can promote acceptance of more foods and help expand children’s palates.
- Cows were meant to eat grass, so when they’re doing so, they are in better health. They don’t get sick as often (which means fewer antibiotics) and they release less greenhouse gasses into the air than conventional cows. The grassland itself also helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Raising cows on pasture – as opposed to in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) – is the most eco-friendly way to produce dairy. Healthy cows = healthy dairy products + healthier planet.
Answers to other common questions…
What does it mean to be “grass-fed?”
The term “grass-fed” means that cows are fed grass 100% of the time. However, this term is not regulated, so in order to ensure you’re getting what you think you’re getting, make sure to choose “Organic grass-fed” dairy products. Since these products are organic, by definition they are also produced without the use of GMOs, growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.
How can cows eat grass during the winter, especially in cold places?
During the winter, grass-fed cows eat dried grasses.
How do I know what products to choose?
Choose organic grass-fed dairy products whenever possible.
Why is grass-fed dairy more expensive?
Only a very small percentage of farms produce 100% grass-fed dairy, so there is more demand than supply which means a higher price. Grass-fed dairies also require more grassland, which requires more upkeepMore grassland is also necessary – which requires
Are there any conventional farms where cows do eat grass?
Yes, there are some conventional farmers around the country (in places with a lot of rain and green space) that let their cows outside to graze on pasture part of the time. But as a consumer, it’s impossible to know whether the dairy you’re buying comes from these farms or from feedlot farms, since there’s no distinction on the label. If you want a 100% grass-fed product, look for the term “organic grass-fed.”
Linda ConnellJuly 11, 2016 at 3:42 pm
You will notice no baby calves in these pictures. They are taken from their mothers within a few days of being born so that we can have the milk intended for them. The mother cows cry for weeks, and most of the male babies become veal.
Amelia WinslowJuly 15, 2016 at 1:33 pm
Hi Linda, I checked with a couple of farmers and found that 1) parts of what you say are true, parts are not. And 2) farms and their practices vary. Here’s a response from my friend Emily Zweber, an Organic Valley farmer in Minnesota:
“We do take the calves after birth, though there are some farms who use nurse cows or leave the calves on the cow. Each farm is different. On our farm we leave them with the mothers for a few hours. We then milk the mother and give that colostrum to the calf. The calf is raised in an individual hutch for a couple weeks and then is put in a group. While in the individual hutch we are able to watch them closely and give them individual attention. Just like you wouldn’t send a human baby to daycare when when they are a day old, we want to make sure the calf is thriving before she is put in a group. Our calves get milk for 5 months. They are gradually weaned as they eat more and more grass. I know it seems harsh to take the calf. As a mother myself, I catch myself thinking like that too. But today’s cows are not bred to be good mothers. Right or wrong, we have bred it out of them over many decades. Cows will produce a lot more milk than their baby can drink. It is okay that we drink the extra.
As for what is done with the calves, on our farm none of our calves go for veal. We raise up the girls for future milk cows and raise the boys for beef. Yes there are a few farmers who sell their calves for veal. It isn’t a huge market, therefore not many do it. Most male calves are raised two to two and half years before they are mature enough to be harvested for beef.”
Kathleen GrabowskiSeptember 23, 2017 at 1:23 am
The term free range is a new term which has come on to the market in the past 12-18 months. The only requirement apparently is that cows are out for 180 days a year! Other than that they can be fed as any other herd. A herd that grazes well would achieve this anyway (depending on conditions). This quote is from Muller UK &Ireland group who supply milk to our milkman. I want to change to organic milk is the content I have quoted truly organic milk?
Amelia WinslowSeptember 27, 2017 at 3:23 pm
You bring up a handful of concerns here, I’ll address each one separately.
1) I haven’t heard the term “free range” referring to cattle/beef before.
2) Most commercial cows in the U.S. never graze on pasture – and those that do usually only do so for the first 6 weeks of life. This is why it’s so important to buy organic (required to graze for at least 120 days/year) or even better, 100% grass-fed organic (exclusively grass-fed, they eat dried grasses when they can’t be on pasture due to weather).